Diversity in children’s literature is important for two big reasons. First, children need to see themselves in books, and second, children need to see others in books.
As both the mom of Irish/English-Canadian girls and a teacher in a very white school, I take care to choose books at home and at work that teach lessons about differences (a girl’s experience being black or a boy’s experience with a prosthetic limb) but also books that naturally show the diversity of our society (a character who just happens to be black or have a prosthetic limb).
In Canada, both aspects are important when it comes to Indigenous picture books, as we need to explicitly teach all our children the history of our First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples but also have their faces and voices regularly included in our literature, along with those of the many other backgrounds that make up our country.
With that in mind, and after consultation with many educators, parents and kids (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous), here are 12 wonderful picture book recommendations. These would make great additions to your collection at any time of year, but some titles are particularly meaningful as we observe Orange Shirt Day at the end of September.
Sockeye Silver, Saltchuck Blue by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd
A colourful board book taking readers through the natural wonders of four seasons of the Pacific Northwest.
Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett
The gentle rhymes (written in English and translated into Plains Cree) will remind your little one how much he or she is loved.
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
The story of the gifts given to a newborn baby (“Kulu” is an Inuktitut term of endearment for a baby or young child) by all the animals of the Arctic.
My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett
A beautifully illustrated board book showing us there’s so much to be thankful for (walking barefoot on the grass, bannock baking in the oven).
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Written in the spirit of reconciliation, this colourful book with simple text outlines the ways we can take care of each other.
My Arctic 1, 2, 3 by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka
With a range of numbers from 1-10 and up to one million (in both English and Inuktitut), readers learn about life in the Arctic Circle.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox by Danielle Daniel
Young characters explain why they identify with certain creatures, such as a bear, butterfly or owl, in this introduction to totem animals.
Bear For Breakfast by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Jay Odjick
Written in both English and Ojibwa, this is the Munsch-silly story of a boy who goes out searching for a meal just like his grandfather used to do.
S Is For Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet by G. Gregory Roberts, illustrated by Bob Doucet
The page for each letter has a simple rhyming verse, but off to the side a more thorough description of the aspect that’s mentioned, from Aboriginals and bats to Yoho National Park and Zeballos.
When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson
A young girl has many questions for her grandmother (“Why do you wear your hair so long?”, “Why do you speak in Cree?”) in this introduction to the realities of residential schools, age-appropriate for young children.
Blackflies by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Jay Odjick
Written for the child of a family Munsch once stayed within Fort McMurray, Alberta, this is the humorous tale of young Helen and her plan to get rid of some springtime pests.
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
This is the sweet story of a little girl who wants to help her grandpa rediscover his language, lost years ago at residential school.
Have we left out one of your favourites? Please leave a comment below and let us know!
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